The Witch Tree of Old Louisville
Updated: Aug 15
The story reeks of tall tales of old, of witches and gypsies scorned who retaliated with a devasting curse. The truth of the old Witch Tree of Old Louisville may be as lost as the tree that once stood at the corner of Sixth and Park Street, but the wild stories continue in ghost tours and published tomes.
I learned of the tree while on the Louisville walking tour of "America's Most Haunted Neighborhood." The ghost tour led by Angelique featured numerous homes of the old Louisville neighborhood south of downtown, once the bustling enclave of millionaires of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Old Louisville consists of dozens and dozens of Victorian homes, many of which house residents who refuse to leave. It's a hidden gem of a neighborhood, Angelique tells us, with unique architectural styles, old-growth trees hanging over thoroughfares like a mother's loving arms and fascinating residents, both past and present, many of which today are artists and writers.
In fact, Old Louisville boasts of one of the highest numbers of Victorian homes in America, within 1,200 acres and 48 square blocks.
Naturally, those old homes with their complicated histories, plus the limestone beneath, are prime for hauntings. And Angelique told us story after story.
But this tale is about the Witch Tree at Sixth and Park. The story goes that a large maple stood on this corner, an honored tree by a Louisville coven of witches, some traveling gypsies and Doc Beauregard, a voodoo priest who left Kentucky for New Orleans but returned to Louisville, carrying "gris gris, bottles of oil, dried reptiles, small bones, and a hoot owl's head," according to David Dominé 's latest book, "A Dark Room in Glitter Ball City," which chronicles a horrific murder of the neighborhood. David began the haunted tours and is also the author of "Ghosts of Old Louisville" so both Old Louisville and its scandals and ghosts are his expertise.
The trouble surrounding the Witch Tree began back around the turn of the century. Locals decided to cut down the perfectly straight maple tree and use it for a May Pole Ceremony.
"Against the witches' warning, they chopped the tree down and proceeded with their festivities, but not before the crones fled the area, leaving a curse in their wake," Dominé writes. They left behind a curse, "Beware eleventh month!"
Eleven months later, on March 27, 1890, a terrible tornado destroyed much of downtown Louisville. About 100 people were killed. During the storm, lightning hit the stump where the maple once stood, flames erupted, and a new tree grew from the damage.
"The witches returned and resumed their nightly rituals, and visitors began to leave offerings at the tree as a way of appeasing the witches," Dominé writes.
Today, the gnarled osage orange tree that grew in place of the maple is filled with trinkets, Mardi Gras beads, messages and other items left behind those who honor the story and the tree that grows in place of the maple. It's believed that if anyone dares remove one of the offerings, a curse will fall upon them. People check the tree periodically to make sure things are left intact, and there's even a Facebook page dedicated to the Witch Tree.
Was the Witch Tree of Old Louisville a true gathering place for pagans or is this another tall tale that survived the test of time? Being that witchcraft is a real religious practice and not one made up of hags riding broomsticks and casting evil spells, I'm hesitant to trust the telling of this story. But then again, perhaps Louisville was tolerant enough to welcome earth lovers into their fold. What do you think?
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by Cheré Dastugue Coen, who always loves a spooky ghost tale. She is the author of "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and writes the Viola Valentine paranormal mysteries under the pen name of Cherie Claire.